Power Smoothies

Over the past decade or so, whenever my daughter and I had a day off together, we’d go to our local lunch place “Power Smoothie”. It’s a Millennial take on the sandwich shoppe, serving  a variety of wraps and rice bowls with interesting combinations, and an extensive menu of Power Smoothies. These are shakes made with fruit, and sometimes yogurt, to which one can add vitamins and other supplements. This establishment tends to attract body builder types and other fitness devotees. My daughter and I, usually among the few patrons not in workout attire, like the sandwich wraps and sometimes enjoy a smoothie as a treat. For us, a fruit smoothie (just the fruit) is a treat–not a fuel. It is not about the “power” for us, but just a tasty blend of fruits that can be quite refreshing, especially on a hot day. But the Power Smoothie–it’s not only the Nectar of the Bods.

We’ve seen some Power Smoothies of a different sort in the news lately. The most serious (and threatening) Power Smoothie is Vladamir Putin. His reclaiming Crimea while the Ukraine’s interim government leans toward the EU has caused  a tense situation. Not long before this maneuver, some Americans were relishing Putin’s strength, particularly in opposition to their characterizations of Obama. This has been rather disconcerting. President Obama’s detractors have acted like they had a crush on (muscle-man) Putin, and when Putin behaved like the bully, placing troops along the border of Crimea, the Obama haters blamed Obama, insinuating that Obama was weak, which caused Putin’s actions.

People respond to flexed muscles. They see strength and power and like shows of force. For some, brashness is strength, and attaining power by showing strength is most important.

There has been another media sensation over the last several weeks, although this Power Smoothie is far outside the realm of geopolitics. Miriam Weeks, aka Belle Knox, is a freshwoman at Duke University. She has created quite a kerfuffle because she also works in porn. At first she hid her porn identity, Belle Knox, but after she revealed her identity to a frat guy, it wasn’t long before everyone else knew. Imagine that. She maintains that she works in the porn industry to help pay tuition. (Her parents just found out!) She has been on the talk show circuit recently, including Piers Morgan and The View, defending her right to work in porn. She insists that she feels “empowered” by this work,and that it is her choice, and shame on anyone who judges her negatively. She has received quite a bit of attention, including supposed death threats. The death threats, if true, are despicable, but her attention seeking is beyond combating death threats. She is brash and loves the attention, and knowing that she chooses to exploit her body, and feign innocence while insisting that she is empowered and should not be judged, is quite manipulative and disingenuous. For so many, sex trafficking and sex work is not a choice and is horrific and demeaning and ruins lives. If Miriam (Belle Knox) Weeks is happy to choose sex work, great for her! Even if she does need to work to help with tuition (which is questionable), she obviously does not consider sex work to have a demeaning side.

Choice is power. She thinks that she deserves respect because she has chosen her work, and she disparages those she thinks disparage her. For some, getting attention is intoxicating. It’s a sense of power. Miriam Belle Knox Weeks may feel powerful for being desirable doing porn at 18, and for causing a sensation at Duke and on national media outlets, but this Power Smoothie is not healthy. Real power is more than doing what one feels like when and where one wants. Power must include the strength of consideration of ones actions and words.

One more Power Smoothie has been on my mind for a while: Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg is truly an upstanding and outstanding citizen. The COO of Facebook, Inc. has been ranked as one of the 50 most powerful women in business by several influential business magazines and journals. She is incredibly accomplished and engaged, having served on many boards and given numerous addresses, and last year, released her first book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.  While I appreciated her intentions with Lean In and her attempts to create a new movement, I am not aligned with her. I thought the unintended consequence of her attempt to empower women to “lean in to their ambitions” was that it was supportive to those women lucky enough to choose when and where they want to work. For most women, other structures of power need to be transformed beyond a woman’s attempts to lean in.

More recently, Sandburg suggested banning the word “bossy”, as it has historically been used when referring to certain assertive behavior exhibited by girls (and sometimes women). This “Ban Bossy” campaign took off with some celebrities attaching their names, including Beyonce, Jane Lynch and Condoleezza Rice. While it might seem like a catchy title for a campaign to empower girls, I respectfully disagree with banning the word bossy. Being bossy is not the same as being a good leader. Bossy behavior is not a catch all for female assertiveness. Being bossy is being obnoxious. Bossy girls may garner temporary power and think they are strong, but we should be clear about what effective leadership is and isn’t. The bossy girls I knew did not become dynamic leaders–just demanding (and usually just demanding for themselves).

Rather than banning “bossy”, let’s teach leadership and make distinctions between leading and demanding; debating and obstructing; elevating and pushing. Bring back dignity, but let’s not pretend that nastiness and obnoxious behavior, or even doing whatever one wants whenever and wherever one wants is somehow just misunderstood leadership. Being bossy is not the same as being an effective or good leader. Let’s keep bossy in our lexicon to remind ourselves of negative behavior.

The Power Smoothies, although very different from each other, have attempted to push boundaries, claim territory as though there were only certain considerations, flex muscles for attention, and seek to shake things up. There are Power Smoothies in every domain. Certainly not all are nefarious, but power and strength are tricky.   Everyone seeks some sort of power and needs strength. The kind of strength and power that we want to extend can’t be left to Power Smoothies.  Whether it’s co-opting language from historic movements or moments that generate visceral responses, or grandstanding, we need to remind ourselves and our children of the power of critical thinking; of consideration and consequences (intended or not); of distortions and distinctions. The Power Smoothies blend it all together . Some are bossy; some are bullies; some are oblivious. Some are well intentioned, but it is in our power to clarify and to educate; to provide healthy alternatives.

One thought on “Power Smoothies

  1. Very thought provoking examples of power. I was appalled by those in our country who were vocal in their criticisms of President Obama. Diplomacy is a complicated area, where power comes from what you don’t do as much as in what you do. Thankfully, our current leader doesn’t take his advice from cable news.


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